Aspen Filmfest: Sean Baker drops the iPhone for ‘The Florida Project’ |

Aspen Filmfest: Sean Baker drops the iPhone for ‘The Florida Project’

"The Florida Project" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and has become a leading Oscar contender.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go…

What: ‘The Florida Project’ at Aspen Filmfest

Where: Isis Theatre

When: Friday, Oct. 6, 8:15 p.m.

How much: $20 ($15 for Aspen Film members)

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House and Isis box offices;

More info:


This Weekend at Aspen Filmfest


Noon “Bee Nation,” Isis Theatre

2:30 p.m. “Bar Behar,” Isis Theatre

5:30 “A Ciambra,” Isis Theatre

5:30 “Lucky,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

7:30 “The Desert Bride,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

8:15 “The Florida Project,” Isis Theatre


1 p.m. Panel Discussion, “Hedy Lamarr: Bringing Accomplished Women of History to a New Generation,” Isis Theatre

2:30 “Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait,” Isis Theatre

5:30 “Whose Streets?” Isis Theatre

5:30 “All the Wild Horses,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

7:30 “The Florida Project,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

8:15 “The Upside,” Isis Theatre


11 a.m. Breakfast at the Fest, Wheeler Opera House

Noon “Rock Dog,” Wheeler Opera House

5:30 p.m. “Waru,” Wheeler Opera House

5:30 “Letters From Baghdad,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

7:30 “The Upside,” Crystal Theatre, Carbondale

8:15 Surprise Film, Wheeler Opera House

Director Sean Baker became the first iPhone auteur with his acclaimed, visually sumptuous 2015 feature “Tangerine.”

He’s moved on from smartphone cinematography to 35-millimeter cameras for his follow-up, “The Florida Project,” which screens Friday night at Aspen Filmfest and emerged as a leading Oscar contender out of the Cannes Film Festival.

The new film follows a family living on the fringe of homelessness at a motel outside of Disney World in Orlando, starring 6-year-old Brooklyn Prince and Bria Vinaite as her mother — both first-time actors — and Willem Dafoe as the motel manager.

Baker made micro-budget films for 15 years before the breakout success of “Tangerine,” his buoyant portrait of transgender sex workers in Los Angeles, at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago. With “The Florida Project,” Baker is staying true to his roots — telling a story about outsiders and working with first-time and nonprofessional actors. Yet it’s a leap forward in scale — his first film with a budget above $1 million.

“You never know what you’re going to get. But if you’re open to hearing what others have to say, you’ll be rewarded with happy accidents and surprises.”Sean Bakerdirector

In an interview at last year’s Aspen Shortsfest, where Baker world premiered his short film “Snowbird,” he said it was an arduous road to mainstream recognition and making “The Florida Project.”

“It took so long to get on the radar,” Baker said. “It was like every film got slightly more attention until ‘Tangerine’ hit Sundance.”

Staying true to his creative vision while going broke making small movies almost nobody saw, he said, was the only way to break in and find an audience.

“I would not have gotten there if I hadn’t done all these micro-budget movies by myself. So even though it was tedious and in terms of living — it really requires you, like everyone else, to get attention somehow. And the only way to get attention is to show a product. … It’s so cliché, but so true, you can’t wait for anyone to do it for you.”

Baker’s unconventional approach to filmmaking includes using first-time actors and nonprofessionals improvising from a loosely structured script. It’s brought his films a raw vitality that can’t be manufactured.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said. “But if you’re open to hearing what others have to say, you’ll be rewarded with happy accidents and surprises.”

But Baker’s remarkable vision and storytelling ability has little to do with quirky methods like shooting on a phone or casting non-actors.

“Sean Baker has a remarkable empathy,” said Aspen Filmfest director of programming Jane Schoettle.

Turning his compassionate eye to the underclass living in the shadow of Disney’s Magic Kingdom was a natural fit for the director.

“’The Florida Project’ is less from the point of view of the character — it’s going at it from the point of view of society and posing questions about society, about how America really is,” added Schoettle. “He does it beautifully and he doesn’t pass judgment on his characters. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s terrifying. People will experience 360 degrees of emotions.”

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